Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president.
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LONDON — The European Union has said it is ready to discuss the waiving of intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines, after the United States announced it supports the initiative.
The proposed patent-waiver — designed to boost the global production of Covid-19 vaccines — has proved divisive for European lawmakers, with some supporting the move, while others have fiercely opposed it. Supporters of the idea say it is critical to ramp up vaccination rates in low-income nations. Until now, the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, has expressed doubts about the waiving of the IP rights.
However on Thursday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said her team was open “to discuss any proposals that address the crisis in an effective and pragmatic manner.”
“That is why we are ready to discuss how the U.S. proposal for a waiver on intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines could help achieve that objective,” she said during a speech.
It comes after the White House announced Wednesday that it was in favour of lifting IP rights, citing the “extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The move caused shares of major pharmaceutical firms that have developed Covid-19 shots to sink.
However, the announcement was praised by the World Health Organization, with WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus saying the U.S. decision was a “monumental moment in the fight against Covid-19.”
The GAVI vaccine alliance also welcomed President Joe Biden’s stance, saying it recognizes “the significance of the administration’s commitment to work towards increasing raw material production.”
The landmark proposal to waive the IP rights was jointly submitted to the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa in October, however, a handful of countries have blocked the proposal. These include the U.K., Switzerland, Japan, Norway, Canada, Australia, Brazil, the EU and — until now — the United States.
“In the short run, however, we call upon all vaccine producing countries to allow export and to avoid measures that disrupt the supply chains,” von der Leyen said on Thursday.
The EU has praised itself for being the top exporter of Covid-19 vaccines, while also criticizing countries such as the U.K. for not taking similar action.
A medical worker prepares a syringe with AstraZeneca vaccine at a local community sports hall converted into a vaccination centre in Ventspils, Latvia.
GINTS IVUSKANS | AFP | Getty Images
“While others keep their vaccine production for themselves, Europe is the main exporter of vaccines worldwide. So far, more than 200 million doses of vaccines produced in Europe have been shipped to the rest of the world,” von der Leyen said.
The EU, a group of 27 nations, experienced a slow start to its vaccine rollout, however inoculations have steadily increased and the bloc is expecting to have 70% of its adults vaccinated by July.
“The U.S. has a similar goal. This shows how much our vaccination campaigns have aligned,” von der Leyen added.
The latest data show that Israel, the U.K., the U.S and Chile are leading the way when it comes to the number of Covid-19 shots administered so far. However, the figures also show that inoculation rates in the EU are significantly above the world’s average, which was not the case some weeks ago.